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MSU, Montana State University

New West Daily Roundup for May 2, 2016

Today in New West news: Montana State University (MSU) researcher pioneers new brain study tech, Billings Bookstore Co-op hires Red Lodge Books & Tea owner, Sports Authority to close all 450 stores, and six Utah companies lead trade mission to German business expo.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, one Montana State University researcher is leading the charge in brain study technology. Thom Hughes, a professor in MSU’s Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, and his team are working to develop “genetically encoded voltage indicators” (GEVIs) which allow researchers to chart electrical activity across individual neural cells. Hughes calls the development “the dream of neuroscientists for many years.” From the Chronicle:

Hughes and colleagues at the Yale University School of Medicine and Korea Institute of Science and Technology summarized recent advances in GEVIs in an article published in the April issue of “Trends in Neurosciences.” The journal article, “Toward Better Genetically Encoded Sensors of Membrane Potential,” appeared online April 26.

Functional MRI and other technologies have helped scientists understand which parts of the brain correspond to certain behaviors and thought processes, but the working of the brain’s billions of neurons — tiny, interconnected cells that transmit information through electrical and chemical signals — remains largely a mystery.

“Functional MRI is like asking, ‘Is the action in New York or Boston?’” said Hughes. With GEVIs, “we’re asking about the actual intersections and streets.”

GEVIs are made by fusing the genes that cause fluorescence in jelly fish and other sea creatures to genes that encode voltage-sensitive proteins. The result, a synthetic gene, can be introduced into neurons through a virus or inserted into the genome of a mouse or rat, creating nerve cells that flash when the cells are involved in a thought.

“Making these genes is not trivial; it involves a great deal of synthetic DNA work, which is what my lab does, coupled with extensive testing in many different kinds of neurons,” Hughes said.

Hughes has been working in the MSU Molecular Motion Lab since 1993, and pioneered the new generation of GEVIs described in the “Trends in Neuroscience” article. According to the Chronicle, all the GEVI work starts in Bozeman, where the team builds new genes and ships them across the world to labs. You can see a summary of the Trends in Neurosciences article here.

Keeping with Montana, according to the Billings Gazette, the Billings Bookstore Cooperative has hired Gary Robson as its new general manager. Robson has previous bookselling experience, as the proprietor of Red Lodge Books & Tea; Robson and his wife Kathy purchased the store in 2001. Unfortunately, the store is slated to close in mid-June, but some of the staff will relocate to the Billings store. The Billings Bookstore Cooperative is slated to open by the end of this summer in a former Wendy’s restaurant at 2906 Second Avenue North. From the Gazette:

“We’ve been working on the bookstore co-op for over a year, and all the pieces are falling into place,” said co-op board president Carrie La Seur. “Hiring Gary and buying the assets of Red Lodge Books & Tea significantly reduces the time it will take to get the Billings bookstore up and running.”

Robson has extensive bookstore managing and publishing experience, and like La Seur and several other co-op shareholders, he is a published author. He is best known for his “Who Pooped in the Park” children’s series, which have sold 400,000 copies. His latest in the series, “Who Pooped in Central Park?” is coming out in late May.

Robson isn’t happy about leaving Red Lodge with no bookstore for the first time in 30 years. He said there is a possibility that the Billings Bookstore Cooperative could open a satellite bookstore in Red Lodge in the future. At one point, Robson operated a satellite bookstore in Absarokee.

“Being a part of a larger community — and being located just down the street from MSUB, Rocky and the Billings Library — gives us a whole new set of opportunities that don’t exist in a small town like Red Lodge,” Robson said.

The advantage of operating an independent bookstore, instead of a chain bookstore, is that the inventory can be carefully curated to reflect the community, Robson said.

“As a full-service bookstore we’ll have a little of everything, but the focus will be on regional authors and topics, educational books, nature and science, classics, and a strong children’s section.”

The Gazette adds that the Cooperative will host a set of free public events, including readings and game nights; Robson made a name for his Red Lodge store by keeping it open for game nights every Wednesday.

Over in Colorado, we previously reported Englewood-based Sports Authority was planning to close a third of its stores, but according to Forbes, the sporting goods chain recently announced it will likely close all 450 locations and liquidate its assets rather than reorganize under Chapter 11 protection. Indeed, the company has $1.1 billion in outstanding debt, which makes recovery unlikely. From Forbes:

Sports Authority notified the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., earlier this week that the company would not be able to reorganize and would pursue a sale instead.

Most of the company’s assets will go up for auction May 16. While buyers could emerge who would keep the doors open in at least some locations, it’s possible that all 450 stores could be liquidated.

Finally, over in Utah, six state companies recently ventured across the pond to the Hannover Messe trade show in Hannover, Germany. According to Utah Business, the appearance was undertaken with help from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the state’s State Trade and Expansion Program:

“Hannover Messe is one of the world’s largest trade fairs for industrial technology, and we are pleased with the relationships we’ve formed and the successes we have found,” said Franz Kolb, regional director in GOED’s International Trade and Diplomacy Office. “We are confident our continued participation will help grow Utah businesses and expand the state’s trade relationship with the European Union and other countries.”

The European Union is Utah’s largest trading partner with $4.3 billion worth of exports from Utah to the EU in 2015 and a 54 percent increase in trade between the EU and Utah from 2014-2015. Likewise, there have been four Utah trade missions to Europe in the past five years with Hannover being the fifth to bring more business to Utah companies.

“The Hannover Messe trade show has been valuable for us because we’ve been able to meet new potential partners and strengthen existing relationships,” said Jared Pratt, vice president of Autonomous Solutions Inc., a world leader in vendor-independent vehicle automation systems. “We believe that Autonomous Solutions Inc. will experience several positive outcomes from our participation in this event.”

Here are the six Utah companies in question:

• Saygus: South Jordan-based smartphone manufacturer.
• Kaddas Enterprises Inc.: Salt Lake City-based “thermoforming” company.
• Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI): Petersboro-based “independent automation” technology producer.
• Spectra Symbol: West Valley City-based potentiometer manufacturer.
• Tycon Systems: Bluffdale-based manufacturer of “remote power systems” for wind and solar companies as well as point-to-point wireless systems.
• US Synthetic: Orem-based diamond drill-bit manufacturer.

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